There’s a good chance that if you are planning to upgrade to the D500 you already have a decent array of DX glass. But even if you don’t, I’m going to assume that at least you own a basic kit lens and hopefully the classic Nikon AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G, which every photographer should own since it only costs US $169 and is so versatile.
Since I’ve always believed that lenses are a lifelong investment, I want to recommend ones that are relatively future proof—basically, even if you are committed to DX (and buying the D500 kind of means that), there is the possibility that eventually you may switch over to FX full frame.
To prepare for that, the lenses you buy should preferably be compatible with both DX and FX. This obviously isn’t applicable for ultra wide-angle lenses, but every other focal range allows for some flexibility between use on cropped sensors and full frame.
I also haven’t chosen obscenely expensive lenses, but several of these are definitely not budget. Before you raise your pitchforks, do note that I’ve also included some more affordable alternatives on all lenses that cost over US $400. And while there are cheaper pure DX lenses, buying a good lens once is often smarter than acquiring a bunch of lacklustre glass every few years.
1. Best Prime: Nikon AF-S Nikkor 24mm f/1.8G ED
This isn’t the cheapest or most popular prime—that award goes to the evergreen nifty fifty Nikon AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G—but in the long run it will give you the most value for your money as it can be used as a wide-angle if you eventually decide to upgrade to full frame. While it’s true that the two Nikon 50mm lenses also work in full frame, they end up being a bit long in DX with an effective focal length of 75mm. The 24mm f/1.8 will let you work at a constant fast aperture at an effective focal length of 36mm, which is a great all-purpose length.
2. Best Standard: Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM | A
Let me begin this with a disclaimer: if you are on a budget or not planning to upgrade to full frame in the near future, ignore the Sigma and go for the reliable Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 35mm f/1.8G DX. Both are extremely sharp and will autofocus accurately, but the Sigma will work on full frame cameras while the Nikon 35mm f/1.8 G DX will not (although it only costs US $169). Either way, both lenses will provide a 35mm equivalent of 50mm on the D500—making them “standard” primes. Sigma have been making some real serious glass for a long time now, and their ART series deserves attention.
Another lens that can be considered is the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 35mm f/1.8G ED, which like the Sigma, can work on both FX and DX. It costs US $459 putting it right in between the two other lenses, and offers superb quality. However, if you are shelling out that much for a 35mm, I’d go for the Sigma ART (check out an early review here).
3. Best Portrait: Carl Zeiss Planar T* 50mm f/1.4 ZF.2
The obvious choice in this category would automatically go to the oft-mentioned Nikon AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G or Nikon AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G that I’ve brought up 10 times already in this article alone. If in doubt, go get either of those and you’ll be happy for sure.
But instead of using this space to recommend a lens that everyone already knows the merits of or owns, I’d like to point readers in a curious direction. I’ve been using the 35mm f/2.0 version of this series for many years and have nothing but praise for the sharpness and bokeh of Zeiss glass. While this cannot autofocus and is relatively pricy, it’s still compartively a steal since it’s being replaced by the 50mm f/1.8 Milvus—which is basically a cosmetic upgrade with a small optical redesign. Seeing as the Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 Milvus costs $1,149, the choice is simple. This is top quality glass for a knockdown price.
As for the fact that it is manual focus? Don’t let that bother you. With most portraits you’ll be working slow anyway, and this lens will give you full control. With the D500 it will be effectively 75mm, although of course it will return to 50mm in the case of an upgrade to FX.
4. Best Wide-Angle: Tokina AT-X 116 PRO DX II AF 11-16mm f/2.8
Tokina have a good reputation for making some very sharp lenses although traditionally their autofocus performance hasn’t been exceptional. That doesn’t mean it’s slow—just that it isn’t the fastest horse in the race. Fortunately, ultra wide-angles don’t need much speed, and the lens more than makes up for any shortcomings with a constant f/2.8 maximum aperture. With an effective 35mm focal length of 17-24mm, this is the only wide-angle you’ll ever need for DX.
Unfortunately it won’t be of much use in FX, which is something unavoidable if photographers want to get the ultra-wide spectrum.
5. Best Telephoto: Nikon AF-S Nikkor 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G IF-ED VR
Telephotos have always been quite expensive, but this 70-300mm sits in between the entry-level Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 55-200mm f/4-5.6G ED VR II at $139 and the professional-level Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200MM F/2.8G ED VR II at $1,859.
To put it simply, if you are a professional sports or action photographer you probably won’t be reading this (or you’ll already own the 70-200mm and more), but if you are an enthusiast this 70-300mm will be just perfect. It’s sharp, relatively fast for autofocus, and has VR. Unlike the cheaper 55-200mm, it will work on FX as well as DX, and even has an extra 100mm reach compared to Nikon’s professional telephoto standard.
The D500 is a lightning fast beast of a camera, and should be a top choice for anyone looking to do sports, wildlife, or action photography. After all, it’s got the same autofocus mechanism as the new D5, and can shoot 10fps using 153-AF points. In low light, this 70-300mm isn’t the fastest at 300mm, but with the high ISO capability of the D500 who even cares?